by Betty Fussell
Must our daily pleasure in food be constantly poisoned by fear of — well, poison? It was one thing when kids were warned off tomatoes because of salmonella poisoning, and I’m sure there were a number of kids happy to give up spinach for fear of E. coli. But peanut butter?
The marriage of peanut butter and jelly is so sacred to the American child that it is blasphemed by the coupling of peanut butter and salmonella. But at least the peanut butter scare gets beef off the hook as the major source of food terror, from E. coli to Mad Cow disease. How in the face of these daily headlines about the simplest of our daily foods can we remain so clueless about the need for CHANGE in our procedures for food safety?
The absurdly divided jurisdiction between the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (which handles meat, poultry, eggs), and the FDA’s scattershot regulations for all the rest of our food, has been a joke for decades. But alas, people sicken and die from such jokes. The laugh’s on us.
We have never had a commonsensical, well-organized, well-funded unified program devoted to the safety of the foods, domestic and imported, that we put in our mouths each day. Even our new Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, has suggested, though barely above a whisper, that it may be time for a single agent to handle food safety in this country.
“T-I-M-E?” I want to shout. It was time 100 years ago. It is always time to care more about the health of the community than the profit of vested interests. There’ll always be wicked people, like Snow White’s stepmother, to deliberately poison an apple, but this wholesale careless poisoning by default is far more monstrous. I want someone to take responsibility, like a Secretary of Food or a Secretary of Eating. I want someone to care.